Myopic Vision

parashas Beshalach 5781

Was Pharaoh deceived? Or did he deceive himself? G-d led the Children of Israel in a roundabout way to the Sea of Reeds, so that they would not have to be confronted by the Philistines, when passing by their territory. Otherwise, they might have fled back to Egypt at the prospect of war. Having escaped the frying pan, they ostensibly entered into the fire. For H’Shem had a strategy in mind, in order to bring about the demise of Pharaoh, and his army who had pursued the Israelites into the wilderness. In order to lay a trap for Pharaoh, H’Shem brought B’nei Yisrael to a gorge at the edge of the sea. As Pharaoh’s army closed in on them, the Children of Israel began to panic. Yet, Moshe said to them, “Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will show to you today” (Exodus 14:13, Israeli Bible).

As for Pharaoh, he apparently thought that Israel was indeed trapped at the Sea of Reeds, as if one of his own gods, whose idol stood there as a towering giant near the gorge, were somehow powerful enough to bring Israel like prey into the hands of Pharaoh, so that he could retrieve what he and his people still considered to be “their slaves.” His perception, based in his trust in the deities that he worshipped, contributed to his deception. For there is only one Master of the Universe, Who has prominence over the affairs of mankind. Pharaoh’s shortsightedness prevented him from seeing the situation in any other way, than what appealed to his sense of self, pride, and intransigence.

Additionally, Pharaoh had been shown the sovereignty of the Almighty’s hand, Who proved Himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian gods. Yet, he remained recalcitrant, unable to perceive reality through any other lens, other than his own. And, he suffered greatly for this myopia, inasmuch that he himself was doomed to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds, along with his army. Why were the Egyptians as well, unable to see the truth that was set before their very eyes? Trying to explain away the plagues, and even the splitting of the sea, as natural phenomena, instead of the hand of G-d, they remained stuck in their myopic vision, unaware of the false nature of their gods, and the limited reality of their worldview.

“Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in His deeds toward mankind. He turned the sea into dry land.” – Psalms 66:5-6, The Complete Jewish Tanach, chabad.org

Inner Spark

“All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

– Exodus 10:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Three days of darkness fell upon Egypt, as the ninth plague was enacted. Yet, there was light in the dwellings of the Children of Israel, who lived apart from the Egyptians in the land of Goshen. This is in accord with the declaration made several times, in regard to the plagues, that the L-RD would differentiate between the Egyptians and Israel. Perhaps, this is the most striking example, whereof somehow B’nei Yisrael had light in Goshen, whereas the rest of Egypt experienced utter darkness for three days. How can this be explained?

The Targum infers that the light served the purpose of enabling the righteous to be occupied with good deeds within their dwellings (Targum Yonatan, Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org). Or HaChayim alludes to the origin of this light as having to do with the righteousness of the Children of Israel. By this allusion, in all likelihood, he was referring to the idea of the pintele yid – the inner spark.

Despite a person’s best efforts, we often fail to even live up to our own standards of righteousness, let alone G-d’s standard; yet, there is flame within that may always call us to return to Him. This is the pintele yid, the inner essence, wherein the flickering flame of divinity, yearns to be kindled by acts of righteousness (mitzvoth).

“For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light.”

– Proverbs 6:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Shemot 5780 – Out of Egypt

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shemot 5780

“No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying: ‘What have I done?’ Every one turneth away in his course, as a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle.”

– Jeremiah 8:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ramchal notes in his book, entitled, Mesillas Yesharim – the Path of the Just – that most people, who do not reflect upon the nature of their ways, in thought, speech and deed, are comparable to “a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle” (Jeremiah 8:6), an analogy for those who do not repent of their aveiros (transgressions).

The unrepentant continue in their recalcitrant ways, bringing them closer to the edge of danger, as their misdeeds increase until they are brought face to face with the enemy (the yetzer harah). In contrast, those who do teshuvah (repentance), in stride with the discernment, granted to them by H’Shem, will prevent the occurrence of aveirah upon aveirah (sin upon sin), thus taking the reins of a runaway horse, so to speak, before their animal soul leads them totally astray.

The task of man, b’tzelim Elokim, created in G-d’s image, is to follow a path of righteousness, countering the animal soul, otherwise known as the yetzer hara or evil inclination, that makes an attempt to derail his efforts to serve H’Shem.

Ramchal advocates heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – to be made every day, in order to bring the conscious individual closer to his true self, by repenting of his sins, and seeking atonement on a daily basis, with a heartfelt attempt to search his soul. Ideally, the search would include minor and major transgressions, as well as what King David referred to as the sins of the heels, the aveiros (transgressions) that most people trample upon, so to speak, that is they disregard these aveiros, as if they are to little to be of consequence. Yet, Dovid HaMelech himself was concerned that these type of sins might keep him out of Gan Eden.

When B’nei Yisrael walked three days into the wilderness after leaving Mitzraim (Egypt),they were faced with the prospect of an immediate encounter with Pharaoh’s army, whose charioteers had caught up to the Children of Israel, encamped at the Sea of Reeds. There was no leeway for hesitation, when a path was provided through the waters of the sea for B’nei Yisrael. They were granted passage along a path upon the seabed, swept dry by an East wind. Likewise, there should be no hesitation in our efforts when we are shown a way to escape from aveiros (sins). The yetzer harah (evil inclination) may pursue us; however, H’Shem will show us the way to freedom.

Where did the path to freedom begin for B’nei Yisrael? A glimmer of light shone upon the darkest days of captivity when “when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Despite their harsh circumstances, they found hope in the message of the redeemer, who conferred to them that G-d had surely remembered, otherwise translated as “visited” them – yifkod pekodti – the same words that had been passed along the generations, since the time when Joseph told his brothers that G-d would surely visit them and bring them out of Egypt into the Promised Land (see Genesis 50:25).

In like manner, G-d will answer our heartfelt prayers for help with the challenges we face in life in due time. Along the way, He will bring us into covenant relationship to Him, wherein we may start anew on the derech (path) of righteousness. Like B’nei Yisrael, who had sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity, before redemption, we can be freed from the muck and mire of our life, by taking the first step, like Nachson who walked into the Sea of Reeds, even before the sea actually parted.

parashas Vayechi 5780 – Jacob Lives

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayechi 5780

“Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).”

– Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenental promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much, while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. When moved to tefillah (prayer), he sought H’Shem, whose transcendence, being above nature, is experienced as being more distant to an individual at times.

The last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives), for his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).